Florida (3-4-0) at Philadelphia (3-1-1)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Philadelphia, PA
Temp: 59° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Wed Oct 29, 2003
  • TV: FSFL, Comc
Preview | Box Score | Recap

A healthy John LeClair is important if the Philadelphia Flyers are to become an elite team this season.

Coming off a strong performance in his season debut, LeClair looks to help the Flyers remain unbeaten on home ice when the Florida Panthers visit the Wachovia Center.

After missing the first seven games of the season with a broken bone in his left foot, LeClair had a goal and an assist Monday in a 5-0 victory over visiting Montreal.

“I felt better than I thought I would,” LeClair said. “I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.”

LeClair, a five-time 40-goal scorer, registered three shots on goal and was a plus-2 while playing on a line with center Michal Handzus and right wing Justin Williams.

“LeClair was excellent,” Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It looks like he never missed a beat from training camp.”

Robert Esche benefited from his team’s strong play, as he needed to make just 20 saves for his sixth career shutout. Esche entered Monday with a lofty 3.36 goals-against average in two games.

“Whenever you get a shutout and things haven’t been going great, it’s huge,” said Esche, who is expected to start again Wednesday. “Personally, I felt like I was playing well but not getting any breaks.”

This is the first time since 1973-74 the Flyers have three shutouts in their first eight games. Jeff Hackett is one of two goalies with two shutouts this season.

Hitchcock, a strict defensive coach, was happy with his goaltender and his team after the Flyers had allowed four goals in each of the previous four games.

“He looked very sound, very composed,” Hitchcock said of Esche. “We needed to get off this four-goal schneid.”

Florida became the only team this season to defeat Atlanta in regulation, as captain Olli Jokinen and Viktor Kozlov each had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory Saturday.

Backup Steve Shields looked sharp in his Panthers debut, stopping 33 shots. Shields was playing in place of Roberto Luongo, who had faced a league-high 282 shots through the first eight games.

“It was nice to get in there and get playing and get a little rhythm,” Shields said. “I expected them to play a lot better than they did in the first period. They turned it up a little on us and it was good we had a nice lead.”

Jokinen has goals in three straight games and five points in that span after recording just one assist during a four-game stretch.

The Panthers have won just three of their last 16 meetings (3-11-2) with the Flyers.

STANDINGS (through Oct. 27): Panthers - 8 points, 3rd place, 5 PB, Southeast Division. Flyers - 10 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 4 goals; Kozlov, 5 assists and 8 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 28 PIM. Flyers - Mark Recchi, 4 goals and 9 points; Williams, 6 assists; Keith Primeau, 30 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 27): Panthers - Power play: 8.3 percent (3 for 36), 28th in NHL. Penalty killing: 90.4 percent (47 for 52), 5th. Flyers - Power play: 21.1 percent (8 for 38), 7th. Penalty killing: 90.5 percent (38 for 42), 4th.

GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (2-4-2, 0 SO, 1.85 GAA); Shields (1-0-0, 2.00). Flyers - Hackett (2-1-2, 2, 2.32); Esche (1-1-1, 1, 2.27).

2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 2-1-1.

LAST MEETING: April 6; Flyers, 6-2. At Sunrise, Fla., Radovan Somik had two goals and an assist to help the Flyers end the regular season on an eight-game unbeaten streak.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 2-2-1-0 on the road; Flyers - 2-0-2-0 at home.

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